Why Was Chanukah So Late This Year?
Chanukah is never late or early… it is always at the same time, on the same date… the 25th of Kislev. But why is the day we celebrate so variable? Well, that’s our Jewish calendar for you. Just as we are a special people, we have a special calendar. But why?
The Hebrew calendar dates back to ancient times when our early sages established a calendar based on lunar cycles. Long before the Roman calendar, based on solar cycles, that was established by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE or the Gregorian calendar, improving on the Julian calendar, was established in the year 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, the people of Israel craved order. So, they looked to the heavens for answers and the moon cycles with its constancy and regularity, became the basis of our calendar.
And who is to say that the Gregorian calendar, the one that most of the world uses today, is correct? Only a few countries like Spain and France accepted this calendar over the previously accepted Roman calendar back in 1582, because it was an edict of the Pope. Many European countries resisted the change, regarding it as unwanted Catholic control, as the Protestant movement began evolving into religious reformation.
It was not until 1752 that the British parliament agreed to accept the Gregorian calendar, but dropped twelve complete days to enable all of its overseas possessions to catch up with the Western world. Egypt accepted the Gregorian calendar in 1874. The Soviet Union did not accept the Gregorian calendar until 1918 after its revolution, probably as retaliation against the Russian Orthodox church for not accepting the Catholic-based calendar sooner. Greece did not accept it until 1922, probably for the same anti-Catholic sentiment, and they still celebrate their religious holidays based on the Julian calendar.
So, we are not alone.
The lunar month on the Jewish calendar begins when the first sliver of moon appears after the dark moon. In ancient times, this was an easy observation. When two independent, reliable eyewitnesses notified the Sanhedrin they saw the sliver, the Court would send messages to the masses that Rosh Chodesh (new month) was occurring and they would celebrate with prayer and praises to G-d.
I learned that the Jewish calendar is actually quite scientific. It is based on three astronomical phenomena: 1) Rotation of the earth around its axis (one day), 2) revolution of the moon about the earth (1 month or 29.5 days)) and 3) revolution of the earth around the sun (one year or 365.25 days). The Gregorian, or now referred to as “civil calendar”, arbitrarily sets length of months to 28, 30 or 31 days with a leap year day every four years (except for those divisible by 100).
Combining the three aforementioned astronomical factors, months on the Jewish calendar are either 29 or 30 days corresponding to a 29.5 day cycle, and years are either 12 or 13 months, corresponding to the 12.4 month solar cycle.
So, since a 12-month lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar year and a 13 month lunar calendar is 19 days longer than a solar year, our ancient sages added an extra month based on the seasons to ensure that Passover would occur in the Spring. They called the month ADAR II and called the leap year Shana Me’uberet (the pregnant year). Note the Jewish logic.
In the fourth century of this common era, Hillel II devised a fixed calendar based on mathematical and astronomical calculations. It standardized the length of months and the addition of months over the course of nineteen years, so that the lunar calendar could correlate with the solar calendar. The extra month is added every 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th month in the 19-month cycle. Our current cycle began this year 5777. Hence, the extra month and the later date for Chanukah!
Hope that made it easier to understand. Like everything Jewish… food for thought.
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